This is a blog about music, photography, history, and culture.
These are photographs from my collection that tell a story about lost time and forgotten music.

Mike Brubaker
{ Click on the image to expand the photo }

Music in the Field

15 August 2014

It was a warm day. The air smelled of canvas tents, horses, and cut grass. The soldiers had begun their daily drills so there had to be music. Three boys came to hear the army band play.

The exact time and place of this photo postcard are unknown. This army band of about 28 are wearing uniforms appropriate to the decade 1910 to 1920. Standing at attention behind them are the drums and bugles of the field musicians. The photo has faded and I have improved it with digital software but I am still uncertain about the complexion on the faces of the musicians. Are they African American?  If they are, they may be members of the 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiments – the famed "Buffalo Soldiers" which were two all black units of the U.S. Army. formed in the second half of the 19th century.

The photographer wrote a caption in the corner:

Guard Mount
In The Field

A Guard Mount was when one unit was assembled to exchange duty with another. There was a specific bugle call for this order.

The scene in front of the band might have resembled this image from a postcard of 1918. A band performs for a large company of soldiers arrayed in some kind of drill line. They are near tents and are watched over by officers on horseback.

This birds-eye view is entitled Musical Saber Drill, Fort Riley, Kansas. The soldiers are practicing basic cavalry swordsmanship, but minus the horses. No doubt it is always best to first learn this unmounted. The field is overlooking the Kansas River of Ft. Riley, a military installation once known for a brief connection to the 7th U.S. Cavalry Regiment and General George Armstrong Custer.

The postcard has a postmark of SEP 23, 1918 from Junction City, KS Camp Funston. This camp was one of 16 training camps set up around the country in 1917 to prepare new recruits and draftees for military service in the war against Germany. 

It was addressed to Mr. Emil E. Forderhase of Berger, Missouri in Franklin County.

Sept 22 - 1918

Mr Emil Forderhase. Dear Brother
Am going to send you this card for pleasure
Sure would like to see you little fellow
again Guess you will be a big man if
I get back. Cant tell exactly when
that will be. Guess you missed me
every evening as you went to bed
and also during the day Say Emil how
do you like school. Just study hard for
it is good to have a good education
always can make use of it. Am glad to
have a much as I have. Even is good
here where I am Are several boys here that
cant write or Read. Tell Ida that I read a
letter that Amelia sent to Benj Meyer & in
that letter she wrote to all of us.
As ever Harry

Harry's full name was Harry Walter Forderhase and he was 24 years old when he enlisted in the U.S. Army in July 1918.  The American Expeditionary Forces under General John J. Pershing had already seen their first major action in the spring. They would see much more as summer ended during the so-called great Hundred Days Offensive, also known as the Second Battle of the Somme. By September there was still no expectation that the war in Europe would end soon, and America was now sending 10,000 soldiers a day to the battlefields of France.

Harry Forderhase was one of over 4 million American men who were mobilized for America's military contribution to World War One. I do not know if he was ever put on a ship for France, but his veteran record states simply that he was released from army service in January 1919. Perhaps more significantly, Harry survived the Great Influenza epidemic of 1918, as the Kansas army camps were later determined to have been an epicenter for this horrific contagion that killed millions more people than were taken by the war.

Emil Forderhase must have been very pleased to have his brother return to the farm in Berger, as he was only 10 when Harry joined up in 1918. The Forderhase family, though they were a generation or more removed from the old country, lived in a rural farm community where nearly every neighbor was of German descent.

In the postwar years, the family stayed together, as Harry, the oldest boy of 5 children, took over the farm in 1920. They were all still there in the 1940 census, single and unmarried – Ida, Harry, Oscar, Olivia, and Emil. The two youngest worked in a hat factory, where Olivia was a seamstress and Emil was a crown finisher.  They probably did not need to write many postcards or letters to each other.


The days of saber drills and cavalry training are over in today's modern army. But the generals of 1914-1918 considered the horse and saber the preeminent force for war. This British film shows a group of raw recruits getting instruction in how to wield the saber. There are of course no horses. And sadly in this era of silent film, no band music either. I hear a waltz. Maybe the Blue Danube.

This Pathé video should start in the middle at 7m 58s, but the beginning is well worth watching too.



This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
Click the link to read more letters to home.

Prisoner #7280 - A Lifer in Music

08 August 2014

The way that some musicians play music should be a crime, and saxophone players often get accused of some illicit musicianship worthy enough to send them to jail. Yet despite the widespread abuse of their instrument it is surprisingly rare to find a saxophonist who actually served time in prison.

However even more rare is the musician who used the saxophone to get out of prison.


The man in the photo stares directly into the camera lens. He wears a dark suit with a stripped tie, and under one arm he holds an alto saxophone. It seems an ordinary portrait that could date from any decade after 1900. The intrigue comes from the note written on the back of the postcard.

In the Penn. for life
Lincoln Nebr.
July 22 - 1928

His face seemed familiar, so I went back to a photo featured on my August 2012 story of the Nebraska State Penitentiary Band. In this band of 12 musicians, he is standing on the left holding a larger tenor saxophone.

However the man next to him is not a musician. He is the prison warden, William T. Fenton.

When I acquired the postcard of this saxophone player, there was another postcard included in the sale. It is a similar portrait of a man in a dark suit, though he has no instrument. The photographer labeled the photo with one word.


Warden William T. Fenton (1873-1939) was a remarkable administrator of a very difficult institution. Still a young man when he was appointed in 1913 to run the Nebraska State Penitentiary in Lincoln, NE, he endeavored to reform the prison by removing the old methods of correction based on harsh conditions and punishment and replacing them with new concepts of inmate discipline, education, and training. His basic tenet was that by treating inmates with respect and letting them maintain their dignity, the prison could instill proper behavior that would restore them to society as good citizens.

He raised the wages of guards to eliminate corruption. He made improvements in the prison kitchen so that inmates were served better food. He eliminated the convict lockstep march and rule of silence at meals. He introduced recreational activities which included sport games and a band. He even bought regular civilian suits for all the inmates to wear at Sunday chapel instead of their striped prisoner uniform.

By 1915 Warden Fenton became recognized as part of the progressive movement that was changing America's prison system in the early 20th century. When he retired in 1934, his 21 year service under both Republican and Democrat governors would remain the longest tenure of any Nebraska warden. His fame even got him an offer to take over the Alcatraz federal prison which opened in 1933. He declined the job due to poor health and died in 1939.

But this story is not about Warden Fenton. It's about his boys in the band. 

On the right side of the penitentiary band photo is a man not dressed in white shirt and bow tie like the other musicians. Instead he wears a suit and long tie. With his two toned conductor's baton and youthful charming smile there is no mistake that he is the band leader.

He was also a murderer. 

He was known as "Black Tony" or more properly Antonio or Tony Ciarletta. His photo appeared in a 1924 newspaper article about his impending release from the Nebraska State Penitentiary. The state pardon board  had commuted his life sentence, and Black Tony was scheduled to be let out just two days before Christmas 1924. The caption also included the information that he was the leader of the state prison orchestra.

Lincoln NE Star
December 14, 1924

In 1913 Tony Ciarletta, age 19, and two other men held up a resort in Omaha where Ciarletta worked as a bellhop. As they collected valuables from the resort's guests, one man, a bank teller named Henry E. Nickell, failed to put his hands up and made a threatening move. Ciarletta fired two shots and killed him. The three bandits escaped with the loot, but weeks later they were captured in Colorado, after a woman in Lincoln identified Tony as a man who had pawned some of the stolen jewelry with her.

In reporting on the trial the Nebraska newspapers gave him the nickname - "Black Tony" - a name which he vehemently objected to. At one court appearance he confronted reporters. "If I ever get out I'm going to get you _____ for calling me ‘Black Tony’. Haven't you any families of your own? How would you like to be disgraced with such a name?"  In March 1914 he was sentenced to life imprisonment.    

La Crosse WI Tribune
March 6, 1914

Looking closely at the second photo featured in my story on the N.S.P. Band there is short young man standing in the center holding a cornet. I believe it is none other than Tony Ciarletta. On the right is Warden Fenton. 

According to one report Tony had very little education. In the 1920 census, recorded while he was incarcerated at the Lincoln prison, the entry for citizenship shows Tony immigrated to America in 1901 and that his native language was Italian. (Four names above his was inmate Joe Bird, born in Montana, language – Indian.) 

During that first decade of his imprisonment, Tony Ciarletta applied himself to self improvement and evidently became a model prisoner. In the process he learned to play several musical instruments and moved up from being a member of the prison band to becoming the band leader. On his release from prison he said "I hope to continue my work in music as soon as I get on my feet again financially,". There were even thoughts he might find work in an orchestra in his hometown of Joliet, IL or Chicago.  

Lincoln NE Star
December 23, 1924

In the third photo from my 2012 story on the Nebraska State Penitentiary Band, we can see Tony crouching in front of the band. Again unlike the other musicians he is wearing a suit and in his right hand is a conductor's baton. His instrument appears longer and I think he has exchanged the cornet for a trumpet.

The band is posed in front of the prison greenhouse. Note that in this band of 14 musicians, there are two, possibly four, men of color, something that would not have occurred outside of the prison walls in the 1920s era of strict segregation. Could the man behind Tony be Joe Bird from Montana?

_ _

Standing on the left is Warden Fenton next to the saxophone player who older here, perhaps about the same age as his portrait. His instrument is a tenor saxophone.

The prison band, or orchestra as it was often called, performed daily at lunchtime for the inmates and at the prison chapel for Sunday services. They also played concerts that were open to the public during fairs and other events regularly held at the Nebraska State Penitentiary. Some were benefits for the Salvation Army or regional disaster relief. On one concert the prison orchestra shared the stage with a chorus of Lincoln school children. At these shows the prison inmates appeared only on the stage and were not allowed to be in the audience. They got the previews. The warden had suffered enough with his share of prison breaks.

Warden Fenton was very proud of his musicians and used the band to promote the reforms he was advocating. One of his first innovations was to expand the prison facilities with a new auditorium. It could seat 1,300 people and had a stage over 30 feet wide and 26 feet deep with electric lighting and enough room for scenery and sets. In this theater space, inmates produced minstrel shows with comic skits, songs, and variety acts that used their own original material that they wrote and performed themselves. 

The prison's annual Thanksgiving show was a favorite entertainment in Lincoln and was promoted in the newspapers. In 1928 there was a full description of the inmates' show called "The Shutin's Frolic" with program titles, instruments, and names.  Midway down was A Bit of Saxaphone Melody – L. Chobar and later Rhythm Plus with L. Chobar, director, saxaphone (sic).

Could inmate L. Chobar be the same saxophone player as in the photos?

Lincoln NE Star
November 30, 1928

Lincoln NE Evening Journal
December 26, 1924

In December 1924, Tony Ciarletta learned he would receive the best Christmas present ever – his freedom. Yet who would take over the baton and lead the prison orchestra for the inmates annual Christmas show?  A convict  named Louis Chobar.

He was a murderer too.

_ _

In 1917, Louis W. Chobar was working on a large farm in Benedict, Nebraska where his wife was also employed as a housekeeper by the owner, Albert A. Blender. At the time Chobar was only 21 years old and his wife just 17. Not long after starting on the farm, Chobar began to suspect that Blender, a wealthy bachelor, was taking improper advantage of his young wife. In November 1917 he became convinced that Blender had assaulted his wife. In a fit of rage he confronted the man and shot him with Blender's own gun. Chobar then bound and gagged his wife, left a note to explain his crime, and fled in the victim's car. Supposedly he also took money from Blender which prosecutors used as the motive for his crime, but this was later proven false.

A $700 reward for Chobar's capture was offered by Blender's mother, and in late December 1917, he was apprehended by a sheriff's posse of 150 men. Chobar was charged with committing a felony murder for the purpose of robbery. In court his wife took the stand to corroborate Chobar's assertion that Blender had abused her, though this contradicted her earlier statements. It was not enough and the jury found him guilty of first degree murder. When the judge considered his sentence, prosecutors recommended leniency, but Louis Chobar was given life in prison.

Only two years later the state of Nebraska would install an electric chair at the Lincoln penitentiary. It would get a lot of use.

El Paso TX Herald
November 30, 1917

_ _ _

This photo is clearly marked as the N.S.P. Orchestra. There are 20 musicians including six violin players on the left and five saxophones in the front row. Standing at the back center is Warden Fenton and on the right is Louis Chobar holding a conductor's baton instead of a saxophone.

On the far right is the only musician who is wearing a suit jacket. He holds a trumpet and with that broad grin, I believe it may be Tony Ciarletta. With so many sax players and only one trumpet, it would make sense for Louis to conduct while Tony played.

 _ _

Lincoln NE Evening Journal
November 27, 1929

There were so many prison show programs published in the Lincoln newspapers that the penitentiary seemed almost like a high school music academy promoting its spring musical. This next photo postcard is labeled N.S.P. Show Troupe and shows the prison orchestra behind a line of men dressed in typical minstrel show costumes. Nine men are wearing powered wigs and 18th century style pantaloons. Four men on opposite sides of the stage have painted themselves in blackface. But one black trombonist at the back has no need for makeup.

In the center, next to the man sitting on a throne, is a blurred face that I believe is Louis Chobar, the bandleader.  

Chobar is also surely the bandleader in this photo of the N.S.P. Orch., though again the lighting has blurred his features. The stage has an elaborate backdrop with painted columns and ornamental lions. With 12 musicians that include three saxophones and two banjos, the band looks like a typical dance band from the 1920s. Notice that the trombonist in the back row is the same man as in the previous photo and that another black man is on drums. It's also possible that the trumpet on the far right may be Tony Ciarletta.

The internet continues to be an amazing resource for forgotten history. On the website for the Nebraska State Historical Society there was another reference to Louis Chobar.

Not as a saxophone player but as a songwriter. 

Source: Nebraska State Historical Society

The song was A Prisoner's Plea, published by the Nebraska State Penitentiary with words by Prisoner #7280 and music by Prisoner #8940.

If you like this this song it may be obtained by sending 50¢ or
money order, which will assist us in publishing other songs, which
are beautiful fox trots, of our own composition. Also, friends, you
are helping two prisoners who desire to "Make Good" and return
to society as honest, law-abiding citizens.
Thanking you for an order, we are,
Very respectfully yours
Prisoner #7280 and Prisoner #8940
Nebraska State Prison
Lancaster, Nebr.

Who was Prisoner #7280?  None other than Louis W. Chobar.

Source: Nebraska State Historical Society

Chobar entered the Nebraska State Peniteniary in March 1918, with no expectation other than he would never leave. Not surprisingly, his wife got a divorce. His eyes stare at the camera and seem to look far beyond the lens.

He was given work in the prison furniture shop though he had no prior experience in wood craft. He wove wicker chairs, daybeds, lamp shades, and bird cages. Soon he became good enough to be made an instructor. Convicts earned a small wage in the shops and as a lifer Chobar was able to keep all his earnings of about $17 a month. After 6 years at this, he caught the attention of Warden Fenton who offered him the position of prison librarian. Even though Chobar protested he was unqualified, Fenton insisted and Chobar was given charge of choosing and distributing books for the entire prison population. His duties also included running the prison mail room. Life in prison now had a purpose.

Before his incarceration, music been a minor interest for Chobar who enjoyed singing in choirs and had taught himself to pick simple tunes out on the mandolin and violin. In prison he made an unsuccessful try at the cornet after hearing the band, but it was the saxophone that really caught his ear. He invested $168, nearly his full year's income, and bought himself a saxophone, devoting all his free time to the instrument and learning the fundamentals of music. The warden permitted him an hour a day of practice in the prison chapel in addition to two hours of band rehearsal. At night he taught himself the instrument fingerings silently in his cell. Before long, his talent was recognized and he was made a soloist in the band. 

Lincoln NE Star
August 7, 1931
After 12 years in prison, in 1930 Chobar made application to the state parole board for a commutation of his sentence. Unlike Tony Ciarletta's hearing, where no one spoke against him, the family of Chobar's victim were very vocal in their opposition to Chobar's possible release or a reduction of his life sentence. Nebraska newspapers gave regular reports on parole board actions, and quickly picked up on Chobar's case as a contest between two mothers. On the one side Chobar's mother made a plea for clemency, and on the other side his victim's mother, Mrs. Blender, demanded that justice be served. Yet even with the support of prison officials praising his exemplary conduct, Chobar's application was denied.

The following year, when Chobar's mother became critically ill, Warden Fenton took the unusual step of securing Louis a 7-day pass from the governor to leave prison and visit her in Chillicothe, Illinois. Unsupervised. Across the state line. "I have never lost a prisoner under these circumstances when such a privilege has been granted," said Fenton. When it was clear she was near death, Chobar was allowed an extra 5 days.

Lincoln NE Evening Journal
April 20, 1932

At his next parole hearing in 1932, Chobar's petition prevailed and the board commuted his life sentence to a term of 25 years. This made him eligible for release in 1935.

Louis continued as prison librarian and director of the prison's shows. The 1934 Thanksgiving production was a musical comedy entitled "Spooky Hours". Chobar auditioned over 40 inmates and chose 25 for the six act show. The two lead actors were both black men, one with 16 years experience in Negro stage work. There were three dance routines; short comic skits; a "high class" tap dance act; several popular and classical songs; a one act play; and a big finale depicting jungle life in South Africa. Accompanying all this from the stage pit was an orchestra of 12 musicians led by Louis Chobar. He was even featured as a saxophone soloist.

Each year, owing to the nature of the place, actors come and actors go, but this year Mr. Chobar is quite satisfied with the talent available, and so, says their director, "On with the Show."

The following year Louise Chobar became a free man again. He moved to Peoria, IL; worked as a salesman for a paper product company; remarried and became the father of a daughter.

Did he take his saxophone with him when he left prison? Did he continue to write songs or direct musicals? His name is attached to two songs listed in a 1949 catalog of music copyright titles. "Huckleberry Sweetheart" and "Illinoi' I Love You" for voice and piano, by Myrle Davis and Louis Merle (pseud.) i.e. Louis William Chobar. So perhaps he did keep a dream of pursuing music. But the internet does not have all the answers. After 17 years in the Pen, Louis was probably intent on making a new life on his on terms that was quiet and drew no attention. 

Besides "The Prisoner's Plea", Louis Chobar as Prisoner #7280 co-wrote another song with Prisoner #8940 entitled "Omaha, I Love You." a fox trot ballad. It is curious that Chobar is credited with the lyrics and not the music. Who was the composer?   

That was Prisoner #8940. His name was Art Boyd.

Source: Nebraska State Historical Society

Convicted in 1924 of breaking into and robbing a Missouri Pacific railway depot, Art Boyd was sentenced to serve 3 to 10 years in the penitentiary. Like Chobar and Ciarletta, he repeatedly applied to the parole board for a reduced sentence. By 1930 he was still inside after 6 years. To look at his prison mugshot with his shaved head, scars and missing eye, we could easily believe that he was capable of murder. The internet does not say if he ever was one.

But he did play the saxophone.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where everyone pleads "Not Guilty!"

The Music Lesson

01 August 2014




Mi, mi, sol. — La musique est
un art ridicule! 
Je ne pourrai bien sùr
rien chanter aujourd'hui
Je ne sais pas vraiment quelle
 fièvre me brûle
Lorsqu'il me faut paraître
et chanter devant lui

Mi, mi, so. - Music is
a ridiculous art!
I can sing nothing well today
I do not really know
what fever burns me
When I must appear
before him and sing.

> <

No. 2

Monsieur, décidément je vais
vous prendre en haine
Vous et votre musique
et votre Rossini!
L'ariette est atroce et j'en
ai la migraine
Je ne veux plus vous
voir Monsieur Paganini.

Sir, I will definitely make you hate 
You and your music
and your Rossini! 
The aria is atrocious
and I have a headache 
I never want to see you,
Mr. Paganini.

> <

No. 3

L'art est Long, très long même,
a dit un très grand maitre
C'est par l'effort que le talent
se fait connaître

Art is Long, even very long,
said a great master 
This is the effort that
makes itself known
as talent!

> <

No. 4

Vous en parlez, Monsieur,
très  doctoralement !

Commençons, voulez-vous,
par quelques vocalises.

You speak, sir, very doctorally! 

Start, if you will,
with some vocalizations.

> <

No. 5

Mais vous ne chantez pas ?

Cela vous scandalise
Je vous écoute, vous jouez divinement !

But you are not singing? 

Does this offend you
I listen to you, you play divinely!

> <

No. 6

Tiens ! je me sens en voix;
Mi, mi, sol ... L'ariette
Par vous accompagnée
est un chant d'alouette ..

Here! I feel in voice;
Mi, mi, sol ... The aria 
Accompanied by you is
like singing with a lark ..

> <

No. 7

Pas mal ! Sons bien posés, mais vous manquez de flamme
Reprenons ce passage
et chantons tous les deux:
 ― Oui, vous l'arrachez
a mon âme !
Ce secret qu'ont trahi mes yeux ...

Not bad! Well set sounds,
but you miss the flame 
Resume this passage
and sing both:
 ― Yes, you tear at my soul! 
This secret has been betrayed by my eyes ...

> < 

No. 8

C'est là ce beau secret
que j'arrache à votre àme !
Vous m'aimez ! -- Un baiser !...
Monsieur l'audacieux
Dites-moi maintenant que je
manque de flamme !

It is this beautiful secret
that tears your soul!
You love me! - A kiss ...
Mr Audacious
Tell me now that I lack flame!

> < 

No. 9

O joie. ô transport! ô bonheur!
Je veux être le Paganini
de ton cœur !

Et mon cœur vibre avec délices
Sous vos baisers,
charmant complice !

Oh joy. Oh transport! Oh joy! 
I want to be the Paganini
of your heart! 

And my heart vibrates with delight
Under your kisses,
my charming accomplice!

> <

No. 10

L'Hymen nous rend boudeurs: Pourquoi? Nous sommes fous
Si par hasard quelque
fausse note s'y glisse
Recommençons notre duo; embrassons-nous !

Imitez leur exemple,
ô moroses époux.

MR & MRS  ―
Hymen [the Greek god of marriage] makes us sulky: Why? We are fools 
If by chance some false note slips in 
Let us begin our duo again;
let us kiss! 

Imitate their example,
O morose husband.

> <

These ten postcards were each sent one at a time from Monte Carlo to Mademoiselle Marthe Simone of Trévoux, Ain, France in April 1904.

Please pardon my effort at French translation. All offers for a better English meaning accepted, merci!.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday

click the link for lessons of another kind.

By a nice coincidence the Sepia Saturday theme this weekend fits very well with one of my family photographs from 63 years ago. I suppose we could call it the first official family photograph.

Félicitations to Madame and Monsieur Brubaker 

for their many years of making music together.  

And just in case they forgot the details. Here is the announcement published a few days later
in the Hanover PA Evening Sun. 


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